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The Diamond Dilemma

Chapter 3 – Missing

“Dad?”

            “In the sitting room,” Professor Straker dropped the newspaper he was reading on to the coffee table and looked up as Ben entered the room. “Welcome home. How was London? More importantly, how was Robert?”

            “What we saw of it London was fine. The Gleeman was ok. There was someone with him he wanted us to meet.”

            The Professor raised his eyebrows. “Really… who was that?”

            “A man called Gregory. He seemed friendly enough.”

           “I presume Robert told you why he asked you to come to London?”

            For the first time Ben looked a little uncomfortable. “He did; but he also asked us not to discuss it with anyone…”

            “Then you mustn’t say any more. Are you hungry? I’ve made a steak and kidney pie for supper…”

            “You’ve made a steak and kidney pie?” Ben looked and sounded skeptical.

            His father chuckled. “All right… so the supermarket made it; but as I’m the person who is going to cook it I think I’d be entitled to claim a little credit for the finished article. If steak and kidney doesn’t appeal we could always go out, or get in a takeaway?”

            “No thanks, Dad. I’d rather stay in and eat your steak and kidney pie. It sounds perfect.”

            “Good! Why don’t you go and get ready while I start cooking?”

            “How long have I got?”

            His father glanced at his watch. “I think I’d better check the instructions but I’m pretty sure they said the cooking time is forty minutes. How does supper at seven o’clock sound?”

“Dad, that was delicious. You cook a great steak and kidney pie.” Ben leaned back in his chair and grinned at his father.

17.

The Professor laughed. “I’m glad you enjoyed it.”

            “Oh, I did; the perfect end to a very long day. Tomorrow I’ll get supper. You can have the day off.”

“Ah, now how can I refuse such an offer? Talking of tomorrow, what are your plans; apart from doing the cooking?”

            “Er… I need to do some research. I’ll start off on the internet…”

            “Research or revision?”

            “Dad; stop worrying. Honestly, I’ve done loads of revision. Besides, there’s still plenty of time before my first exam. I promise as soon as this is over I’ll do a whole lot more.”

The Professor picked up the water jug, filled his tumbler and put the jug down on the table again. He glanced at Ben. “What period does he want you to research?”

“The early fifties… oops…” Ben clapped his hand over his mouth. “Dad… that wasn’t fair.”

            The Professor drank most of the water and then put down the glass. Leaning on the table he stared intently at Ben. “I’m sorry; but surely you must see I can’t be kept completely in the dark? Don’t look so worried. Obviously your secret is safe with me. I’ve got one more question. Then I’ll be quiet.”

            Ben stared back and then he nodded. “That sounds fair. What is it?”

“I want to know what will happen when you’ve completed your research.”

            Ben fiddled with the knife and fork as his father watched him intently. Then he put them down on his plate. “Ok, Dad,” he said at last. “That’s fair. He wants us to go away with him… and that, I’m afraid, is all I can tell you.” He ran a finger around the rim of his glass, lowered his gaze and added: “Will you do me a favour, Dad? Try not to think about what I’ve just told you?”

The Professor pushed back his chair and stood up. “It’s forgotten already. You clear the dishes. I will go and get the pudding.”

18.

* * * **

“Jonathan… you’re back! When did you arrive?”

“Ten minutes ago. Mum said you were doing the milking so I thought you might like some help.”

His father smiled. “That’s very kind but, as you can see, I’ve nearly finished. There’s only Sadie andJen left to bring into the parlour. I was going to get them in when I put Freda and Cowslip out with the rest of the herd. Why don’t you get them for me?”

            For the next hour or so they worked side by side in a companionable silence; each so aware what had to be done they had no need to check what the other was doing. Having thoroughly cleaned the parlour and dairy they walked the cows back along the lane to their field. Slapping Cowslip on her rump as she ambled past him through the gateway Jonathan closed the five-barred gate. Smiling contentedly he leaned against the top bar. It was relaxing to watch the herd meander across the pasture, snatching at tufts of grass as they headed for the stream.

            David Williams stood beside Jonathan and watched him, instead of the cows. After a few minutes he tapped his shoulder. “Shall we go home?”

            Reluctantly, Jonathan turned and together they made their way back to the farmyard. Jonathan locked the dairy and parlour doors while his father waited nearby. As he walked towards him David Williams cleared his throat. “Er… before we go inside I wondered if you would tell me a bit about your day.”

            Jonathan shifted uneasily. “There’s not a lot to tell. The Gleeman introduced us to one of his colleagues… do you know, Dad, it never ever occurred to me that the Gleeman had other people working with him, apart from us of course. Still, I suppose I was being stupid. It shouldn’t have been a surprise. After all Tamara turned up when he was taken prisoner. Anyway that’s irrelevant. He has asked us to do some research and then meet him in London again in a couple of days time.”

19.

“Can you say what kind of research?”

Jonathan pursed his lips, thought for a moment then shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t see why not. Just promise you won’t tell anyone else, not even Mum.”

“I promise!”

“He wants us to find out as much as we can about the nineteen fifties… in particular about the Coronation.”

            “Hmm… interesting considering there’s an important anniversary coming up. I wonder what he’s up to. Don’t look so worried. I won’t ask any more questions… except this… is what you’re going to do likely to lead you into danger?”

“Er… um… oh why not? Yes, I’m afraid it could.”

            Mr Williams frowned and shook his head. “Jonathan; I know you’ve got to help him but please promise you won’t do anything foolish. Whatever you’re going to do and whatever the Gleeman wants you to do all I ask is that you are very, very careful.”

            Jonathan nodded. “Dad, that’s a promise I’m more than happy to make.”

            Mr Williams closed his eyes. “Thank goodness.” He opened them again and smiled at his son. “Suddenly I’ve got quite an appetite… what about you?”

Jonathan grinned. “I am very, very hungry. Let’s go and find out what Mum’s been cooking.”

“Did cousin Rose turn up, Mum?”

            “She did.” Mrs Taylor dried her hands on a paper towel and smiled vaguely at Victoria who was standing in the kitchen doorway watching her. “She was lovely… so interesting. We talked for hours. She said she’d been born in England, then her parents emigrated to Australia when she was six months old. I’d love to visit that country. Everything she said about it made it sound absolutely fascinating. Her Australian twang was a little difficult to follow until I got used

20.

to it. It’s such a shame neither you nor Dad were able to meet her. She was most disappointed. She wanted to know everything about you both and promised to try and squeeze in another visit when she gets back from the Lake District. She’s not quite sure when that will be back but it has to be before the thirtieth. That’s the day she flies out from Heathrow. It would be lovely if you could meet her. I know you’d like her.”

            “I’ll keep my fingers crossed,” said Victoria, secretly glad that her mother hadn’t bothered to ask her about her day.

Two days later she stood in the middle of the concourse at Paddington Station and checked the overhead notice board. A message flashed across the notice board informing the public that the expected train from Bristol was pulling into Platform five.

Victoria looked around. Spotting a large number five above a nearby barrier she walked briskly towards it. She’d been looking forward to seeing the boys again, although they’d been in touch by email since they’d met at the museum. In fact ever since they’d returned to their respective homes more texts, emails and phone calls than usual had flown back and forth between the three of them. The last one had arrived only a couple of hours earlier. It was from Jonathan, confirming that they’d caught the nine fifteen from Bristol.

She got as close to the barrier as she could and, standing on tiptoe to see over the heads of the people in front of her, watched the train slowly stopping.

“Victoria!”

She frowned and turned her head. There was no one amongst the small crowd waiting for the new arrivals that she recognised. She turned back to the train. By now the doors were open and some of the passengers were heading for the barrier. So far, there was no sign of either Jonathan or Ben.

            “Victoria!” The voice was now closer and louder. Somebody grasped her elbow.

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Startled, she spun round. A plump, motherly looking woman was standing beside her. She smiled at Victoria, and tightened her grip on her arm. “My, but you’re a hard person to catch. Didn’t you hear me calling?”

            “Who are you?”

The woman ignored the question. “Shall we go?”

            Victoria tried, unsuccessfully, to break the away. “No. I’ve no idea who you are.”

            “I’m Sara… Sara Johnston. I’m…”

            An announcement from the loudspeakers drowned out the rest of her sentence.

When the strident voice had finally finished Victoria said coldly: “Please let go of my arm. Your name means nothing to me.”

“I’m Mr Thomas’ new P.A. He sent me to find you,” replied the woman, still smiling.

            Victoria frowned. “Who is Mr Thomas?”

            Sara Johnston laughed. “The Deputy Director at the British Museum, of course. You must remember him. You had a meeting with him only last week.”

            “Oh… of course…” Victoria blushed. “That’s where I’m going today, as soon as my friends get off the Bristol train.”

            “And that’s why I’m here.” Sara Johnston began to guide her away from the barrier. “Jonathan and Ben aren’t on this train. They caught an earlier one and got to the museum forty or so minutes ago. Robert tried ringing your mobile but the calls kept going straight to voicemail. That’s why he sent me find you.”

            Victoria stopped in mid-stride, wrenched her arm out of the woman’s clasp and dumped her rucksack on the ground. “Look… I’m not going anywhere until I’ve spoken to him.” She knelt down beside the rucksack and began rummaging through it.

Sara Johnston looked at her uneasily. “What are you doing?”

“I need to find my mobil… Ouch… what… what… have… have… you?” Victoria’s

22.

words gradually became a jumbled slur. She swayed; tried to stand and staggered.

Sara Johnston caught her before she fell. “It’s all right, Victoria. You’ll feel better soon. Let me take that and we’ll find a taxi.”  

            “I say; is your friend all right?” asked an elderly woman walking in the opposite direction. Looking concerned she stopped. “She doesn’t look very well. Here, let me help you get her to a seat?”      

“That’s very kind of you; but there’s no need. She’ll be fine in a minute or two. She just feels a little faint. We’ll manage, won’t we Victoria?”

            Victoria tried to shake her head.

            “Good girl.” Sara Johnston smiled at the woman. “Thank you for the offer; it was very kind of you.”

            She waited until the woman disappeared down the steps to the tube and then slung the rucksack over her shoulders. “Come along, my dear. Let’s go and find that taxi.” Hanging on to the semi-conscious girl she guided her across the packed concourse; dodging people scurrying past and walking around those checking the notice boards.

            By the time they reached the exit she was almost dragging Victoria who was by now nearly unconscious. Another woman glanced in their direction. “Is your friend all right?” she asked.

            “She’s fine thanks, just a little faint. No, don’t worry… there’s no need to come… I can manage,” Sara said quickly.

Once they were out of the station she paused to catch her breath and then whispered in Victoria’s ear: “Don’t worry my dear, we’re nearly there.”

            A single black cab was parked at the vehicles entrance. All of a sudden its engine roared into life and edged, very slowly, towards Sara Johnston and Victoria. Almost before the taxi stopped the driver was opening the back door. With the help of Sara he pushed Victoria inside.

23.

“No!” Victoria mumbled, trying hard to resist.         

            A violent shove between her shoulders shot her on to the back seat. Sara Johnston climbed inside and thrust a hypodermic needle into her arm. Breathing heavily she sat down beside Victoria and opened the nearest window. “The British Museum please,” she said, very loudly, for the benefit of two taxi drivers walking past.

The driver got back into the cab, glanced in his mirror and grinned. He winked. “The British Museum it is. Please fasten your seat belts.” He winked again. “Ready Rose?”

            “Oh yes… Quite ready.” The woman who’d claimed to be the Gleeman’s PA glanced at the inert figure lying on the seat beside her and smiled.

            The cab drew away as the taxi drivers stopped to watch. It drove past the line of waiting cabs and disappeared outside where it joined the heavy traffic. The older of the two cabbies scratched his head. “I dunno about you Joe, but I call that blatant poaching?”

            The younger one nodded. “Cheeky blighter… it’s drivers like him that gives the rest of us a bad name. Did you recognise him?”

            “Nah… I’ve never seen him before.” His companion frowned. “What’s more, I don’t remember seeing his licence number.”